In Loving Memory of Henry. 3/99 - 10/01
Hungry Beginnings Who's coming for dinner?
Life in the Shower Do the "Funky 'Possum"
Table Manners 'Possum Party
Henry Moves Out You Want One Too?
Adornment of a 3rd Kind Thief!
Exercising the Beast Henry Says Goodbye
Favorite Fiction

Cherokee Foktale

A Story From Mexico
TBA TBA

All photos RaineIMAGES

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Hungry Beginnings

On June 14th (my birthday),  we were having dinner at the Topolos Winery as is our tradition. Being regulars there we felt compelled to engage the waitress in conversation, and as often happens, it drifted immediately to four legs and fur. Acacia (our waitress) proceeded to tell us about a Mama 'possum that was hit by a car near the restaurant. Mama had three babies, now abandoned. Two of them were being taken care of by Acacia and her mother....but the third was still running around. She felt certain they were too small to take care of themselves, and were obviously hungry, visiting the restaurant on a regular basis. I couldn't volunteer fast enough for the third baby! Of course I had no idea what I was getting into... but there was no hesitation...after all- a baby lost in the woods -who could refuse? 

 No sooner had the waitress left our table, when here comes Baby#3! Trotting across the patio, in broad daylight, almost under our table! There was a brief, half hearted attempt to capture him, but we humans were so stunned we were quite incapable... So we exchanged phone numbers, and I spent a week anxiously checking my answering machine. Baby#3 was somewhat of a spectacle from the beginning. I got the call at work, and half and hour later he was delivered to me in a box-at work! He was mad and he stank. And he was skinny. Did I mention he was mad? He tried like hell to take my fingers off, and I was absolutely terrified.  But we both got over our silliness and Henry took up residence in my bathtub. Complete with comfy T-shirts, litter box, and climbing log.

 

Life in the Shower

Little 3lb Henry took up residence in my shower. It was convenient in so many ways, and yet clearly a clever routine was in order. Since the downstairs bathroom belonged to my roommate, Henry was going to have to share his domain. Every morning after tending to Nik, Turc, Sarah, Charlie, Nelson, Keri and Alex...(shew!)...Henry had to be excavated from the shower. My heart beat wildly when I even thought about handling him, and my voice shook uncontrollably. Even though he never growled at me after the first 2 days, his initial reaction had left it's mark. I didn't want to hurt him, I didn't want him to be frightened, and I didn't want him to bite my fingers off. So for several weeks he only saw me light headed and shaky. Beginning at 5AM, I would slide/dump him out of his little box, and with gloves, I would pick him out of his t-shirt and put him in a Rubbermaid storage drawer. It was set up on a rolling cart so I could move him around and so he was not available to my other pets while I was in the shower. The drawer was great because I could pull it open and slip in fresh food and water and t-shirts without disturbing the little beast. He was still very frightened, and although he would take cherries from my hand, little noises sent him packing.  If I took an extra deep breath through my nose-just barely a sniff- his body would jerk and recoil. He thought I was hissing at him! That took the longest for him to get used to. It  took him even longer to associate my voice with my presence. I would begin speaking to him long before I started removing the locks on the shower doors, and yet he was always startled to see me! So different now, when clearly the sound of my voice, in the tone I save just for him, calms him immediately. So, I spent a lot of time in my tiny bathroom which consisted of the tub, shower stall, the toilet, and just enough room to turn around. I would sit on the floor, with my feet straddling the toilet, cooing and talking to Henry, and giving him treats. Soon I was no longer saying things like "...he's not even cute!" and realized I was completely smitten, completely in love...with Henry. 

 

Table Manners

Henry is a wild animal. He has no manners. Let's start with the least of his etiquette problems: Fruit is Henry's favorite food. But, inevitably, there is something in or on the fruit which is not to his liking. From the beginning, I loved to watch Henry eat. He takes such pleasure in it! He throws his head back, his ears go limp, and he smacks noisily, juice running down the sides, mouth wide open-like he has a bad cold or something! This is extremely cute. However, by the 3rd or 4th piece he becomes more picky...everything seems to be going well and then all of a sudden he looks like a cat with a hairball. Out comes a nasty wad of chewed up peel and saliva. And if you choose not to watch this little display, you can count on stepping on it with your bare feet later! Now picture Henry with a six course meal every night.-and almost every course has something that is not fit for consumption. Broccoli has skin that's too tough, plums and cherries have pits, grapes and apples have peels...Even some meal worms have parts that are not to be swallowed. Add to that, Henry almost never spits back into his dinner bowl. (would you?) Instead, and by the way, Henry now has complete run of the kitchen and nook, wads and pits are all over the floor around the cat climber . Or, if you give him a particularly large morsel, he will put it in his mouth, get a wild look in his eye, and run off to the corner with it. You can be sure there is a little pile of remains over there too.

 

Henry Moves Out

Picture this:
The camera pans the baby's room. The walls drip with baby colors and happy thoughts. You can see the bassinette but not it's contents. The music turns foreboding. The camera approaches the bassinette and looks inside.............EMPTY!

That morning was not unusual. One of them got me up, and I staggered downstairs to get breakfast. For THEM, of course. I peeked in on Henry; gave him a treat. Then staggered back to bed. The rest was anything but usual.  Shortly after getting up I realized Henry was missing. I looked in the usual places, (he does have alternate sleeping quarters)--nothing. Did he suddenly learn how to escape the kitchen? No way, but I searched the house anyway. That sinking feeling had already taken up residence. Henry was no where. As I stood in the  kitchen, trying to maintain my composure, my eyes stared hard at the cat door. Ohmygod. It was unlocked. Not only was Henry missing, but it was my fault. I crawled under the deck, I went though the trap door in the closet to search under the house. Next I smeared plastic bags with sardines and put them all over the yard. He could be around the corner and I would never know it (he's SOOOO quiet!)- but I would hear the bags.  I covered the deck with wheat thins and I waited. And I called. And I called and I called. Windows began slamming next door. I was desperate. 

When Shawn came home he make a second round. Nothing. It was pushing 8PM and getting dark. I was considering going door to door. My neighbors didn't know about Henry-how would they react to the possibility of a giant rat in their backyard? I considered posting signs in the neighborhood. Would I end up with the authorities at my doorstep? I was devastated. How could I allow this to happen? I was hopeless. And we sat in the kitchen, in the dark, at Henry's table. Silent.

 And then we heard something. Barely a whisper of a noise-maybe just a box shifting in a cabinet. No, it was Henry. Henry who had ignored my frantic calls. Henry, who had never left the kitchen! Down on the floor on the left side of the dishwasher, tucked up under the cabinet lip-was a 3"X3" hole. After luring him out he slept quietly in my lap for 45 minutes.   I was thankful for those 45 minutes. And as things returned to normal and Shawn and as I headed to bed we both considered what might have been... 

Shawn: "I knew what I was doing tomorrow."
 Me: "What?" 
Shawn: "Ripping up the deck and finding that damn thing!" 

An adorable statement from someone who hated to see me suffer as much as I hated losing Henry. Needless to say, the cat door has been retired! 

Adornment of a Third Kind

Every week there seems to be something new with Henry. The smacking,  the sudden taking to being combed, the tucking of his "fuzzy dice" were all interesting and amusing. However, some revelations were, and still are, unpleasant. He revealed his latest trick in the aviary. The sun was setting, Henry was searching loudly for snails...when he came across some dog "do". I should call it dog do-NOT! To my horror he carefully picked up a piece, in his mouth, turned his front end around and carefully, deliberately, worked it into his fur just above the tail. Using his mouth and front feet he repeated this action several times. I sat with my mouth open for a long time....Needless to say that was his last performance.

 

Exercising the Beast

Shortly after Henry moved to the kitchen, he started to resemble something that should be served on a platter at Christmas dinner. I had been successfully trained to give treats on demand, and Henry was never shy about demanding.   This caused him to look more like a pig than an opossum. He had many routines that lead to this situation. He appeared on the floor between my feet whenever the refrigerator door was opened. Loudly sniffing, standing on his haunches, he looked for something within reach. If I tried to remove him forcibly his body would stiffen and his tail would flail around in protest. The only way to change his interest was to lure him with something tasty. Henry also learned the potential behind the crackling of any plastic bag. Originally, this was one of his worst fears! It would send him running to the corner of the kitchen under "his" table, between the chair legs. This didn't last too long. Now, any crackling package or bag will bring him out of his basket. From a dead sleep, he slowly, groggily climbs onto the cat climber. His ears are still folded up and his eyes still goopy. His hair is disheveled and he sways slightly. But he manages to line up all 4 feet on the edge of the cat climber, leaning precariously over the edge in shameless beg. Not quite a circus act but definitely treat worthy! 

Concerned about his weight, I consulted my references. It was clearly stated that any opossum with "cheeks" (and I don't mean on the face!) was in danger of needing Jenny Craig.  Also stated were the plans for a giant hamster super-wheel.  Can you picture a round piece of plywood 35" in diameter? That height is about hip level! It was huge. A monster. I had to remove chairs in the kitchen just to fit it. Thanks to Shawn, Henry is now a lean, mean, running machine. He loves his wheel, and becomes quite a menace without it! Climbing wine racks.. etc.

 

Who's Coming for Dinner?

One evening when I went to retrieve Henry from the aviary I was surprised to find that he was NOT waiting at the door for me as usual. As I glanced around for him I saw her!  Standing on the fencing that covers the aviary, she stood silent and still in the moonlight.  She was unexpectedly beautiful. Wild, free, independent. All the things that Henry is not. Her ears searched for information as she and I stood motionless. This serene moment took a comic turn when Henry, who of course was aware of her, began lumbering in criss-cross fashion, sniffing loudly and making persistent smacking noises all the way!

Many nights I waited in the aviary for her. I was never disappointed. I could hear dogs barking and lunging long before she joined us. And yet she would appear as if by magic and I would catch my breath each time. Her movement had no sound.

Henrietta, as Henry's girlfriend was later named, presented a problem. We were aware of 'possums using the fence line for navigation long before Henry came on the scene. The regular uproar from the neighborhood dogs and the fact that my neighbors called the Humane Society when they had one in their garage. Clearly this was not the best place for wildlife. In addition, some major construction began along the creek and traffic on our busy cross street was becoming a nightmare. We decided to catch Henrietta and relocate her.

Do the "Funky 'Possum"

The Funky Possum is an intricate dance requiring many special talents. The following are all examples of steps and rules of the dance: You can combine them any way that suits you.

1. Full body wash, including ears, after every meal. Even if it is only a snack.
2. When doing the "Funky Possum" in a new arena, (some carpet will work too) one must walk slowly forward, allowing the back legs to stretch out. Then, as you lift the back legs, each one must give each one an elaborate twist as they come forward. (This is not the most beautiful part of the dance, as it appears you have been hit by a car. However, it is a source of relief for onlookers, as you miraculously "come to" and scamper off normally.)
3. There are two ways to "slick up" for company. The first is a normal bath, which involves licking the back feet and combing the hair starting at the spine. When you are all done, the hair will be parted perfectly down the back from the head all the way the the haunches. This is dramatic because it exposes the white hair underneath the black ones in a dapper part. The second way involves licking your favorite furniture and then rubbing your checks on it. First one side then the other. When you are done, it will appear that you have put gel on your cheek hair and stood with your face in front of a yard blower. It will also appear that you have ATTEMPTED to die your cheek hair "natural wood" color.
4. Emulate a lizard when you walk and run. If you picture a lizard running, you will see his little butt wiggling side to side with his tail following suit. This step is adhered to at all times.
5. If you have fuzzy dice, hanging from your rear view mirror, (I am talking boy parts here) they dangle precariously until you climb over something! Then they miraculously disappear, tucked up out of danger.

As you can see, The Funky Possum is NOT for beginners.......

'Possum Party

You Want One Too?

I love Henry as I do all my pets. With a devoted soul. Their well being is my foremost concern, both physical and mental. With this in mind, you can imagine how easy it is to dwell on the good and conveniently leave out "the bad and the ugly". So, if you read these stories and think you want to own an opossum , I have mislead you. Henry belongs in the wild. As hard as it was to release Henrietta, I know she is where she is meant to be. I try not to think of owls and foxes and cars, and I try not to think how safe and healthy she would have been in my aviary. Instead I try to visualize her babies. Holding on to her back with their tiny sea-star feet, quiet and hungry and cautious. And completely free of parasites. Rarely, if ever, do opossums begin their lives in such good condition. I have given them that.  And if you are curious about the bad and the ugly, consider an animal the size of a cat that goes potty in a pan of water and doesn't cover up! Also, it should be noted that Henry's diet is not any easy one to maintain. As with any wild animal, it requires research, patience, diligence and tireless energy. There are PLENTY of nights that I would give ANYTHING not to have to make Henry's 6 course meal. I cook, peel, pick, boil, freeze and slice more food for him than I EVER do for myself. In fact, if ate with Henry every night I would be a picture of good health. Pet ownership is a huge responsibility......living with, and being responsible for a member of the wild side is daunting. There are no basics. Food, shelter, mental health and medical care, emergency and otherwise, all present mysteries that must be solved. See Henry's diet!

Thief!

I still wonder at how quiet Henry is. Many times I've been in the office and been alarmed at a faint rustling in what I thought was a closed closet. Do I have mice running around in the house? And as I turn in my chair, to face my fear, a white face appears. Henry! For awhile Henry came to me directly whenever he escaped the kitchen.  But too many times I scooped him up and put him back in. Now he runs around the house first! And where he has been there is a trail of chaos. Plants turned on their side, CD's on the floor, candles and leather shoes slobbered on. All in "stealth" mode. Only once do I remember him making enough noise to give himself away. We had a living room full of company and I was vaguely aware of the rustling of plastic in the kitchen. So I went to tell whoever it was to stop doing my hostess job and join the gang. No one there. Then I see the grocery bags on the floor.  Accessible grocery bags and a setting sun mean Henry's on the prowl! I looked under the table and there he was. He had drug the entire BAG of avocados under the table and through the chair legs. He was sitting on his haunches his eyes wide with excitement... His mouth was green and he had avocado in both fists!

Henry Says Goodbye

Unfortunately Henry is no longer with me, and my heart and home are left with a vacant space in his absence. Unknown to me until close to the end, Henry was suffering from heart disease. I did everything I could, but was not able to bring him to a comfortable level of health that I could maintain. So after spending his last few days in the aviary and in my lap,

I helped him go on 10/1/01. It was difficult and I was barely prepared. But there are things in life that help you through tough times-friends, family, and all of Henry's fans were and still are, beautiful support. But there are no replacements. The lumbering furry does not come to visit the refrigerator, there is no sleeping, curled up body on my lap with big fangs hanging out and a funny grin. It amazes me that such a small, simple soul could be so deeply missed.

Please enjoy these stories of Henry. And as you get to know him, realize that EACH member of our wild community is an individual, and although we do not get to know them like we did Henry, we can help ensure their well being by protecting them and their environment every chance we get. 

Possum's Tail (A Cherokee Folktale)

Posssum used to have a beautiful bushy tail that he combed every morning and sang about at every dance. Coyote was jealous since her tail was scruffy and full of weeds and dirt.One day, the animals decided to hold a great council meeting. "We want your tail to look especially good for this dance," Coyote said to Possum, "so I'm sending Cricket the Barber to dress it for you." Cricket wrapped a red string around Possum's tail, "to keep your fur smooth." But as she wound the string, she secretly snippped the hair close to the roots. When it was Possum's turn to dance, he loosened the sting, stepped to the middle of the circle and began singing, "See my lovely tail. See how it sweeps the ground." The animals laughed so hard that Possum stopped dancing and looked at his tal. When he saw that it was as bare as the tail of a lizard, he was so ashamed that he slumped to the ground, grinning foolishly, just as he does today when taken by surprise.

Why Opossum is Gray (A Story From Mexico)

Long ago, there was a little opossum. No one paid much attention to her, especially not Iguana. For only Iguana knew how to make fire, and he was very proud. One night, Opossum heard Iguana talking. "I am the Great Firemaker! I should rule the village. I will run away and take my fire with me. Then all will see how important I am." Off he ran. The next day, the village was in an uproar. "Without fire, we cannot cook! Without fire, we will freeze!" the villagers said. Opossum tried to speak, but no one would listen.

Finally, Opossum spoke again. "I saw Iguana take the fire up to the sky," she said. At first, the villagers did not believe her. Then Raven said, "I will go see." Spreading his wings, he flew away. Al last, Raven returned. "Opossum was right," he said. "Iguana has taken the fire up to where the mountain meets the sky. "We must find someone who can climb. Someone who is clever and quick. Someone who can bring the fire back!" Everyone looked at Opossum. She was a good climber. "Well you help us?" they asked.

"Why should I?" said Opossum. "Before this, you never listened to me." Then she saw how they shivered. She felt her own warm, white coat. "All right," said Opossum. "I will try." Opossum set off. She climbed and climbed. The wind blew. The air was cold. Yet on and on she climbed. Finally, she reached the top. There sat Iguana before a fire. "May I warm myself by your fire?" said Opossum. "No," said Iguana. "You will take it!" "Surely one as great and wise as you can guard your fire from me," said the little opossum. "You are right," said Iguana. And he began to talk of how very great he was. As Iguana talked, Opossum secretly curled her tail around a stick in the fire. The fire was hot, but she held on to it. Would Iguana never look away? At last, Iguana closed his eyes.

Opossum saw her chance! Away she ran, the burning stick held tightly in her tail. Behind her ran the angry Iguana. At the edge of the mountain, Opossum threw the stick. Down to the village it fell. "Thief!" cried Iguana angrily. He threw a stick. It hit Opossum. Opossum thought quickly. She curled into a ball and did not move. "Are you dead?" asked Iguana. He poked at her, and she rolled down the mountain.

From below, the villagers saw her falling. Raven flew up, using his wings to catch her. The villagers wrapped her in a blanket. "Is brave Opossum dead?" they cried.

Opossum opened her eyes. "No, I am not!" The villagers cheered. "Opossum, you are brave, quick, and clever!" Iguana had been fooled. He stamped his feet. Then he ran away and hid among the rocks.

IN time, the villagers learned how to make fire. As for Opossum, she still has the marks of the fire-a smoky gray coat and a black, hairless tail. If you see her, she may pretend to be dead. It is an old trick that has served her well!

Why Opossum Is Gray is a folktale from the Cora Indians, who are found in the mountains of Mexico. The ancestors of the Cora Indians are believed to be the mighty Aztecs.

This legend is an example of a trickster tale. In such tales, a weaker creature outsmarts a powerful enemy. Trickster heroes from other cultures include Ananse the Spider from Africa and Coyote from the American Southwest.